Board Business Briefs: School Board Reviews Budget and Proposed Tax Cut 
The Cherokee County School Board and Superintendent of Schools at Thursday's School Board meeting congratulates this school year's Student Advisor and Student Delegates on an outstanding year of service to their fellow students.
The Cherokee County School Board on Thursday night reviewed the proposed budget for next school year, which calls for a reduction in the tax rate for all property owners and well-deserved pay increases for teachers and support staff.
The proposed 1.5 mills decrease in the tax rate is the first reduction proposed since 2014 and has been recommended by Superintendent of Schools Dr. Brian V. Hightower in light of rising home values.
“We do not determine property values – those are driven by the market and set by the county tax assessor’s office. We do control the school district’s millage rate, which is what property values are multiplied by to determine your tax bill,” he said. “We know homeowners are receiving their assessments this week, and the sticker shock is real, as home values are significantly up here. Cherokee County, with our great schools and safe community, is a very desirable place to live. Based on the budget I’ve proposed, your actual tax bill that you receive later this year will be lower due to a lower millage rate.”
The county tax assessor’s office, which sets property values, estimates the value of all property in the county (known as the tax digest) has increased by approximately 20% this year due to rising home values. As a result, Dr. Hightower has proposed reducing the millage rate by 1.5 mills. Due to timing issues for budget approval, the school district must take into account appeals to property values that will be filed and addressed by the tax assessor’s office and its board over the coming months, which will reduce the digest before it is finalized later this year. Citizens age 62 and older can file with the tax assessor’s office for an exemption from school taxes up to $446,700 of fair market value on their home.
The School Board and the public now can review the budget, which is posted online here, with three public hearings scheduled prior to the June 16 vote to approve the budget and property tax millage rate. The proposed total budget of $706 Million includes the $471 Million day-to-day operating budget, new school construction, bond debt retirement, School Nutrition and grants. As a companion to the budget, CCSD annually publishes Financial Facts, a report that shares important news from the budget with employees, parents and taxpayers. Read the new edition online here.
Dr. Hightower said, through long-term budget forecasting, he and his staff determined the millage rate reduction could withstand a market correction, but it would not be financially responsible to reduce it further this year. If the economic trends remain positive, he added, the School Board could be in the position to consider another millage rate reduction in 2023.
In addition to reducing the millage rate, the budget also calls for shifting .25 of the total mills from daily operating expenses to debt service reduction. This allows the school district to reduce the need for long-term debt for capital outlay projects and instead use Education SPLOST (Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax) revenue. Additionally, this allows the school district to pay off construction debt faster, reducing interest costs to taxpayers. Last month, the School Board was able to retire some of its school construction bonds 11 years early, avoiding $7.8 million in interest payments.
The proposed millage rate reduction still leaves the school district with enough revenue to fund: increases to teacher and staff pay through “step” longevity raises, associated employer costs like FICA and Medicare for the Governor’s $2,000 pay raise for teachers taking effect in July and, in keeping with the school district’s practice of extending such raises to all employees, 2% cost of living raises and salary scale changes to provide parity, and increased teacher allotments to further lower class size. Pay rates for temporary workers including substitutes that were established as a pandemic relief measure will become permanent for next school year.
The school district is a “people business,” with 88% of the budget devoted to salaries and benefits for the more than 5,200 full-time and part-time employees and daily pay for more than 1,200 temporary and substitute workers.
“We really appreciate all of the detail that goes into the budget,” School Board member Kelly Poole said, as she praised Chief Financial Officer Kenneth Owen and his staff for their work to develop the proposed budget. “I know there are a lot of long hours and nights that go into this.”
From left to right, Donald Garner, Matthew Kimbrell, Ken Godfrey, Matthew Walker, Lee Patti, Angela Gula.
As part of its approval of the monthly personnel recommendations, the School Board approved several leadership appointments.
Donald Garner, a 14-year educator currently serving as an assistant principal at Sequoyah High School, will join CCSD’s Special Education department as a director. Mr. Garner’s experience includes serving as a Special Education teacher and a Special Education facilitator.
Matthew Kimbrell, an 22-year educator who currently serves as a principal in Camden County, will serve as the new principal for R.M. Moore ES STEM Academy. Dr. Hightower praised Mr. Kimbrell for his experience working in Title I schools, which are schools with higher populations of lower income students, and his success as a “turnaround” leader in improving student achievement.
Ken Godfrey, who currently serves as a construction manager for Cobb County School District, will join CCSD as a construction director. An Etowah HS graduate, Mr. Godfrey has 17 years of experience in the school construction field and is a past Cobb County Schools’ Employee of the Year. Also in Support Services, Matthew Walker, who has 13 years of experience with CCSD and currently serves as a zone foreman, is advancing to serve as CCSD’s facility maintenance coordinator.
Lee Patti, a 17-year educator who currently serves as a CCSD instructional technology specialist, will join Oak Grove ES STEAM Academy as an assistant principal. Angela Gula, an 18-year educator who currently serves as an assistant principal for Forsyth County Schools, is joining CCSD as an assistant principal at Creekland MS. Leah Bleisath, who currently serves as an assistant principal at Creekland MS, is transferring to R.M. Moore ES STEAM Academy.
The School Board also:
• Recognized the CCSD Police Department in honor of National Police Week;
• Recognized CCSD School Nutrition workers in honor of School Lunch Hero Day. Read more here [CONTENT_REVIEW InternalLink];
• Recognized CCSD school bus drivers for an outstanding year of service;
• Recognized CCSD school nurses in honor of School Nurse Appreciation Week;
• Recognized School Board member Patsy Jordan in honor of being named the regional Teacher of the Year for Mountain Education Charter High School. Read more here; [CONTENT_REVIEW InternalLink]
• Recognized CCSD’s 2022 Yes I Can Award winners. Read more here;
• Recognized CCSD’s 2022 Georgia Scholars. Read more here; [CONTENT_REVIEW InternalLink]
• Recognized Cherokee HS senior Sarah Liebert as recipient of the Award of Excellence presented by the Georgia Department of Education. Read more here; [CONTENT_REVIEW InternalLink]
• Recognized Freedom Middle School teacher Denise Terrezza as CCSD’s Exemplary English for Speakers of Other Languages Teacher of the Year and Sequoyah HS senior Daniel Chirinos Gil as Exemplary English Learner Student of the Year. Read more here; [CONTENT_REVIEW InternalLink]
• Recognized CCSD’s 2021-22 State Science and Engineering Fair winners. Read more here; [CONTENT_REVIEW InternalLink]
• Recognized CCSD’s Tome Student Literacy Society statewide competition winners. Read more here; [CONTENT_REVIEW InternalLink]
• Recognized CCSD’s Georgia Student Technology Competition winners. Read more here; [CONTENT_REVIEW InternalLink]
• Recognized the Sequoyah HS Robotics Team as runner-up at the Georgia FIRST Robotics Competition. Read more here; [CONTENT_REVIEW InternalLink]
• Recognized CCSD Student-Athletes Honored as Positive Athlete Georgia Regional Winners. Read more here; [CONTENT_REVIEW InternalLink]
• Recognized CCSD’s Georgia High School Association Regional and State Literary Competition Champions. Read more here; [CONTENT_REVIEW InternalLink]
• Recognized Cherokee HS juniors Andrew Solano, Garrett Miller and Ethan Mann as recipients of the inaugural Don Stevens Memorial Scholarship. Read more here; [CONTENT_REVIEW InternalLink]
• Recognized Eleanor Sims of Cherokee HS as recipient of 2021-22 Judy Johnson Memorial Scholarship presented by the Cherokee County School Nutrition Association. Read more here;
• Recognized CCSD’s School Nutrition Program for winning the Turnip the Beet Silver Award. Read more here;
• Recognized the 2021-22 Student Advisor to School Board and Student Delegates for their service and commitment. Read more here; [CONTENT_REVIEW InternalLink]
• Approved the renewal of Partnership Agreements with the Cherokee County Health Department and MUST Ministries;
• Approved monthly financial reports;
• Approved out of state travel by staff;
• Approved out of state and overnight field trips;
• Approved awarding a permanent right-of-way and temporary construction easement to the City of Canton;
• Approved special lease agreements;
• Approved 2022-23 employee tribunal hearing panel appointments; and,
• Approved the 2022-23 CCSD Code of Conduct.
Cherokee High School juniors Andrew Solano, Garrett Miller and Ethan Mann are congratulated as recipients of the inaugural Don Stevens Memorial Scholarship. Members of the scholarship committee and the Cherokee County Educational Foundation congratulate the winners during the School Board meeting.